Maharana Athletics Club is one of the oldest football clubs in Guwahati. Established in 1907 and known as Lago Shyama Club for a brief period, the club has produced some of the leading footballers of the State, including Olympian Talimeren Ao.
The club was formed by 10 boys from Guwahati, led by Jogesh Ch Sengupta, Pabitra Gupta and Uttam Chandra Das. It was named Oriental Club and was possibly the first organised sports club in Guwahati. ‘Around that time, even though Cotton College and a number of schools had been established in Guwahati, people had little knowledge of sports. But football was popular,’ informed Deepjyoti Baruah, secretary of the club. The formation of the club was historic because sports activities in Assam was limited before that. And for the first time, the club succeeded to get approval from the senior citizens of the town.
Within two months, the club was renamed Lago Shyama Club. Some well-wishers were not happy with the name and sought a change. Nripen Sen, the then club secretary, while studying history one morning, found inspiration for a name when he came to a chapter about Maharana Pratap. Incidentally, Maharana Pratap was also the talk of the town that week as a drama named Maharana Pratap was being staged at Arya Natya Mandir by a local theatrical troupe. ‘Maharana’ appealed both to the young minds and the senior citizens. Finally, Lago Shyama became the Maharana Club.
Formation of Assam Football Association
In 1939, Maharana became the first civilian club from the Northeast to join the IFA. In its first-ever appearance in IFA Shield, the club left a permanent mark. Though they were defeated by a last-moment goal by the fearsome Calcutta police team, they played extremely well. The Bengal government declared a half holiday when Maharana Club fought against Mohammedan Sporting at Calcutta in the IFA League in 1940. The club played in the national-level IFA Shield for 19 years and in 1949, they reached the semi-finals.
Maharana Club’s participation in the IFA Shield tournament led to the formation of the Assam Football Association. Former secretary Amiya Kalita said ‘According to the 1945-46 IFA regulations, it was made mandatory for all teams joining the IFA tournament to channelize their applications through the respective provincial football associations. Maharana Club’s first application that year was rejected as it was not processed through the proper channel. That was a big problem as Assam did not have any such association till then. Animesh Ganguly, one of the first players of Maharana Club, accepted the challenge and decided to form the Assam Football Association overnight. Within a day, with the consent of then Chief Minister of Assam, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, to be the president and B Roy Chowdhury as the secretary, the Assam Football Association was formed. Overnight, AFA’s letterhead was printed and Maharana’s application for joining the 1946 IFA league was forwarded on the letterhead. This is how the AFA was born and Maharana Club joined the league.’
Legends in the Making
Though it had humble beginnings, the club made important contributions towards the field of sports. Maharana was the first team from Assam to participate in a major tournament outside the province, when it joined the Govindalal Shield Competition at Rangpur in 1932. Recalling past achievements, members shared, ‘Assam won a gold medal in this tournament when Maharana’s Sarat Das was adjudged the best player of the tournament. In 1947, the club won the IFC Shield at Lucknow. In 1952, Maharana became the proud winner of the All-India Kamal Kumari Trophy at Benaras. The club lifted Bordoloi Trophy for the first time in 1953’.
Maharana Club also produced some of the best jewels of Assam football. T. Ao, a discovery of Animesh Ganguly for Maharana Club’s football team, became the skipper of the Indian Olympic football squad to London in 1948. Sarat Das of Maharana later became the captain of the Mohun Bagan Club (Calcutta). Monaranjan Banerjee from the club was also among the 20 Indian players who were selected for the Indian Olympic Team (1948). The club’s Jiten Chowdhury led the Assam contingent in the national championship for three consecutive years from 1947. When the Assam State Football Team was formed, Maharana Club’s Putu Chowdhury became its first captain.
Did You Know? Though Maharana Club is well known for its football activities, Maharana actually made its debut with a hockey match in October 1907
As part of the celebration, the club embarked on a mission to produce more players like Talimeren Ao, Sarat Das and Manoranjan Banerjee for the nation, by proposing to open a football academy. President Rana Pratap Bordoloi stated that they were in contact with several organisations and establishments for a ground to create the infrastructure. If the academy materializes, it will be the fourth in the State, after Gauhati Town Club, Green Valley Sports Club and Numaligarh Refinery Ltd.
The Road Ahead
The house where the club is presently stationed also has a history. Built in 1900, it belonged to Shyam Mukherjee, the first Indian deputy commissioner of Assam. When he retired, it was transformed to Mukherjee Lodge in 1978. Until then Maharana Club was operating out of a rented house in Pan Bazaar. Eventually, the committee members brought the building with three lakh rupees, which the club earned by organizing a wrestling championship in Guwahati. Assuming office in 2009, the present committee has been trying to overcome the various challenges of running a club, especially the financial hurdles.
In the coming years, the club has decided to try and explore new sports activities. Apart from the various proposed programmes, the club is also planning to set up a gym and facilities for sports screening. The team indicated that the half-constructed building behind the club house would need to be completed, for which they would seek government help.